The other day, a friend of mine said to me “You know? I can’t remember the last time I felt really bored.”
She spends hours a day on Reddit. I know. I see her posts and comments while I’m spending hours a day on Reddit.
We do a lot to feel busy. We do a lot to not be bored. And we have this vast technological army to back us up. Entire businesses have been built on simply saving us from the discomfort of dull moments. No more monotony of standing in line at the coffee shop, there are real-time metrics in Google Analytics that need reviewing! Stuck typing a tedious email? Just take a quick break and check some status updates. Dull bus ride home? There are many apps for that.
It’s gotten to a point where being bored feels like a novelty, or even some weird kind of luxury. There’s just too much going on. Too many people to keep up with. Too many channels to stay on top of. Way too many baby animals doing cute things that have to be aww’d over. Here’s one of them now!
We’ve won the war on boredom. Everyone give themselves a big pat on the back.
Now we are just… busy.
But what if boredom got a bad rap? I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m starting to wonder.
First, let’s talk about the busy-ness. At first, it sounds pretty cool. “How’ve you been?” “Oh, I’ve been suuuuuuper busy, life has been crazy. You wouldn’t believe it.” Sounds awesome. I’m important, because I’ve got stuff going on, and I’m staying on top of it. Except, a lot of the time I get to the end of the day and I can’t think of a single awesome thing I did all day. Hell, we even started a company because of it. I can think of a lot of stuff I did that had to get done, so I guess I can say that. I’m watching all of my company’s social media channels like a hawk. And I certainly know a whole hell of a lot about people I haven’t talked to in years, so there’s that. Oh and I’ve read all the comments (but not the articles) to everything posted on /r/politics and /r/science. My trivia levels are pretty rad.
But in terms of real-deal stuff I’m legitimately psyched about… those days are way less frequent than I’d like. And if I’m not getting that, I think I’d rather be bored than busy. The patterns I fall into are the lowest-common denominator of not being bored. And I don’t think I’m that special of a case.
And another thing. All those quick-fix mechanisms that I use to combat boredom have absolutely wrecked my attention span. I actually can’t believe I’m still typing this post (brb, going to look at cats for a minute).
Sure, I fall into some traps and unproductive patterns. But they’re not accidental traps. Human beings have natural aversions to boredom and unnecessary effort. Lots of companies take advantage of that psychology and use the carrot of instant gratification as a wedge to get a foothold in your brain. That relief from momentary dullness is a terrific habit forming mechanism. Have you ever been typing an email that you’re not really interested in, and then all of a sudden you’re staring at Twitter, and you’re not quite sure how you got there? I have. It’s weird, and I don’t like it.
So, I’ve been thinking about it lately and I’m wondering if the discomfort of boredom isn’t something to run away from in the first place? What if underneath the dullness, magic was happening?
- I know boredom is a state where habits are formed, for better or for worse. But if all your downtime has been eaten up, there’s nothing left over to be a fertile ground for new, better habits.
- Boredom can be rejuvenating and energizing. Even if it just makes you appreciate the things that you don’t find mind-numbingly dull. But I bet it goes way beyond that. After I’m stuck being bored for a while, I’m chomping at the bit to do something exciting.
- Most importantly, though (and probably at the core of the previous points), it’s the place where you form intent. It’s the time where you can legitimately ask, and most truthfully answer the question “What do I REALLY want to be filling this time with right now?”. And being able to do that is powerful.
And once you have intent, and you’ve been able to give your mind a little bit of room to take a couple breaths, and your brain is coiled up ready to spring out of the dull state you’ve found yourself in… well, then you’re ready to kick ass.
A little boredom can be more motivating than the most effective to-do list or time management app.
I’ve been trying a little experiment for the past few days.
I’m taking ten minutes a day and doing nothing but try my best to be bored and not give in to all those little impulses to do something to not be bored. Now, don’t misunderstand, I’m not meditating here. I’m not taking some quiet time to collect my thoughts. I’m being bored. I’m trying to cultivate that “unpleasant, transient affective state in which the individual feels a lack of interest in the current activity” (from Wikipedia). I more or less focus on the fact that there’s about a thousand things I’d rather be doing than sitting there like a dummy for ten minutes doing nothing. Pretty quickly, those thousand things start to fall into a hierarchy in my head, and the ones on the top aren’t generally the ones that I’d choose if I hadn’t given myself a time-out.
I don’t know if it really helps or not, but it feels pretty good for now, so I’m rolling with it. If you feel like it, try it too and report back.
Hi my name is Jason Grimes and I’m the VP of Product Marketing and Sales here at RescueTime. Not long ago, I hosted a webinar about how we can Build Better Knowledge Workers, While Improving Your Team’s Productivity. Quite a few RescueTimers, reporters and thought leaders attended. In this post I’ll cover some of the basics of the talk and for those that prefer the full length video it is included at the bottom of this post - http://youtu.be/kSVIfoT7lZ8
What Is a Knowledge Worker?
Hopefully, when you think of knowledge worker, Dilbert is not the first thing that comes to your mind. For those of you unfamiliar with the Dilbert computer cartoons he is a character who experiences extreme productivity challenges in trying to achieve his every day work. Instead, what I’m picturing for a knowledge worker is someone who spends several hours in front of a computer performing their daily activities both online and off. Could be anyone from a Internet marketer, Software Engineer, Graphic Designer or Salesperson.
And as managers and business owners you already know that their time, is your money – SO
Imagine, Instead of having a team with 1 or 2 star performers you could encourage the use of a toolset that will enable your entire workforce to improve their efficiency, job satisfaction and help them gain an understanding of how they spend their time.
Let’s take a look at this further and see if RescueTime can help you.
What Is RescueTime?
RescueTime is a service that helps people understand how they spend their time on the computer and make changes based on that information.
Why Is Understanding Your Time So Important?
It’s really important, because it gives people the proper information to make good choices and helps them ask a really critical question “Am I really spending my days the way I’d like to?” Once people start asking that question, a lot of fantastic things can fall out of it. People become better at self-managing. They get better at spotting inefficiencies in their day. Ultimately, they learn how to make measurable changes to impact their time in a positive way.
How to Build Better Knowledge Workers
So, knowing what a knowledge worker is and RescueTime’s purpose – How do you build better knowledge workers?
In any scientific experiment where you want to measure change you need to have or create a baseline. If you sign up for RescueTime and use it for approximately 2 weeks you should have an accurate baseline of how your teams are performing.
But graphs and baselines are not enough – you need to provide a digital toolkit with features like Productivity Dashboard, FocusTime.
By providing continuous feedback through the use of weekly emails, goals and alerts. We can provide these feedback loops that help knowledge workers improve their time management.
Now let’s examine each of these points.
Your Productivity Dashboard
Each of your team’s knowledge workers is presented with a customized Productivity Dashboard where it specifically looks at the following information:
Starting from across the top:
- Total Time – per time period (in this case a week)
- Average / day in hours and minutes
- Your employees productivity
- Their most productive day.
With any of our RescueTime products you get this dashboard that will allow you to zero in on the information you want to see and you can print it, or export it to a CSV for further analysis.
Where Is Your Team’s Time spent?
This is often the most asked question from RescueTime users and managers – how is all of my time spent and in what categories?
If I zero in on one of the important reports in the Productivity Dashboard, the All Categories report and It’s hard to see the graph at scale, but it shows approximately 10 hours of time spent on email and scheduling that have been recorded for the week posted. That’s valuable data – it shows where the bulk of my time is being spent and can provide business owners and managers with a high level of detail on how their employees are spending their time.
When Is Your Team in the Zone?
Note this is my data taken from our RescueTime team account, with myself selected as the employee.
You may think you know everyone’s schedules and have a guess at their productivity – now you don’t have to guess. By looking at the schedules below you can quickly see when each employee is the most efficient – morning, afternoon, during the week or over the weekend – and you can have all of this measured against the Team’s average.
Taking a closer look at my schedule – I am most efficient in the morning. Why is that? My son is a rooster and I get up around 5:30am each day and start working not long after that. So mornings are my most productive times.
The take away from this slide is: Block your team’s most productive time out during the day and reserve it for their most important tasks.
This is one of the simplest things you can do to improve your employees productivity.
Start timeboxing your activities using RescueTime’s FocusTime feature. Free yourself from distractions and have laser like focus for periods of time. Most of our customers utilize this tool when they are under a deadline for a manager or studying a particular topic – and they use the heck out of it.
Weekly Email Summary
Our Weekly email summary is one of our most popular features
This email provides your team’s knowledge workers with the following level of details: (Looking from top down)
Let’s take a look at setting up some common goals and alerts within RescueTime.
5 Hours of Productivity – This is a goal we practice internally at RescueTime and it encourages us to work at least 5 hours of Productive time per day. We all know that we will all be at a desk 8-10 hours a day, but 5 of those hours should be downright productive!
Another alert is trying to keep time spent on email to less than 1.0 hour per day and social networking below 30 minutes. This keeps teams focused on their daily tasks and reminds them to stay on target.
Another great RescueTime feature is our Comparisons tool. It takes 30 days of data before it can show the calculations.
Primarily a tool used by your Team Members. This is a peek at one of my colleagues account data for the past 60 days using our Comparisons tool. Let’s take a look at the data that is presented.
At a glance you can easily see:
How our lead developer was performing on an Average Day, What were the top categories and activities.
It also allows you to see the same data when you can flip between An Average Day, Your Most Productive Days and Your Least Productive ways.
This provides team members with incredibly powerful data about their work patterns.
Here is a report showing data for our lead developer’s Most Productive Day.
Here is a report showing data for our lead developer’s Least Productive Day.
What Do Employees Get Out of Using RescueTime?
So you’ve seen highlights of some of our most popular features in RescueTime, but you still may have some questions for example – What do employees get out of it?
- Be able to make positive changes
- Greater sense of self-awareness and control
- Know that they are spending time on the right things
- Compare themselves to others
- Know that you are getting the most out of your team
- Ensure your team isn’t getting bogged down in communications or meetings
- Understanding the overall flow of your team
- And potentially increase billable hours
Building a Better Knowledge Worker is Possible!
So more than anything I want you to know that YES, it is possible to build a better knowledge worker!
- Protect your most precious asset – TIME
- Create a basic understanding of how your team operates (baselines)
- Use RescueTime and all of its features to make better choices of how to use your time
- Continuous improvement through feedback loops (dashboard, emails, goals, alerts)
After people have used RescueTime for a while, one of the most common time-sinks they report is email. It often comes as a pretty big shock, people think they check email a few times a day, and have no clue how it ultimately ends up eating up 30-40% of their time. Since it can be such a black hole, it’s probably worth trying to understand that time a little bit better, right?
Earlier this week Romain Vialard, a Google Apps Script Top Contributor, released Gmail Meter, a Google Apps script that will scan your inbox and create a report showing a bunch of interesting insights. You can find out things like:
- How many conversations (email threads) did you have last month?
- What hours of the day are you most active in email?
- What days of the week do you send or receive the most emails?
- How long does it take you to respond?
And a whole bunch more.
The installation was a little weird (you have to create a Google Docs spreadsheet, then install the script into it), but once it was set up and generated the report, I immediately learned a bunch of things that I wasn’t aware of before.
For instance, I send the more emails on Monday and Friday by a large margin. That sort of makes sense, but my RescueTime data shows that I spend a pretty consistent amount of time in email every day during the work week. That begs the question “what am I doing in email Tuesday-Thursday that’s taking up so much time?” I also found that I can DRAMATICALLY reduce my incoming email volume if I just stop about 6 or 7 automated emails that quite honestly I don’t really have much use for. Bringing down the size of my inbox will hopefully lead to less time that I have to spend in it.
It’s something I’d personally like to dig quite a bit deeper on when I get some spare time. Stephen Wolfram did an exploration of more than 20 years of his email history, and it revealed some really interesting insights, not just about his communication patterns, but about his life in general.
Unfortunately, as the name implies, Gmail Meter only works with Gmail.
Have you used any tools to understand your email usage?
Around the RescueTime offices, we’ve been talking a lot lately about the external factors that influence your time on the computer. RescueTime is pretty good at helping you understand what you’ve been doing, but there’s a bit of a blank spot when it comes to the question “why were you doing it?”
Last week, I saw this tweet by one of our users:
— Ben Bleikamp (@bleikamp) April 12, 2012
A similar sentiment is echoed in this article from the Wall Street Journal a couple weeks ago, which poses questions like:
“Suppose they (workers) could tell how much an afternoon workout boosts their productivity, or how much a stressful meeting raises their heart rate.”
It got me thinking about all the different data streams that are currently piling up around our activities, and how there’s probably a ton of interesting information that jumps out if you can mash them all together. It’s getting easier and easier to amass these piles of data, but unfortunately they tend to be fairly siloed off. Here’s a few that seem really interesting to me:
I’ve used a Fitbit to track more or less every step I’ve taken over the past 2 years (just about 6 million steps). Lately I’ve been using it to keep a really close eye on the time I spend sitting (turns out it’s WAY more than I’d like). I’ve noticed a somewhat counter-intuitive insight with my RescueTime data. I actually do more fulfilling work on days when I’m the most active.
I’ve tracked as much of my music listening history as possible since sometime in mid-2005. I haven’t gotten around to doing it yet, but I’d love to do some analysis and see how my activities impact my listening habits, of vice versa.
There’s a bunch of devices that have come out recently to measure your sleep. Everything from free apps you can download on your phone to headbands that monitor your brainwaves. Personally, I use my Fitbit. It comes with a wrist-strap that you wear while you’re sleeping that measures your movement. I learned that I don’t really sleep as much as I’d like. I haven’t uncovered any unexpected insights about how that affects the rest of my behavior… yet.
This one isn’t so much a personal data stream, but there’s ample data out there, and I think it’s pretty interesting. Especially living in Seattle with the long, dreary winters.
What data sources about yourself would you like to see mashed up? What do you think you would learn from it?
One thing we’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately is multitasking and it’s effects on your productivity. There’s a fair bit of research that basically says that the human brain just isn’t terribly well optimized for doing more than one thing at the same time. Unfortunately, it’s often not something that seems like much of a choice. So many things have a “right now” urgency and seem to require immediate attention. Additionally, many people report that they feel more productive when doing several things at once.
We’re interested in figuring this out for ourselves, with our own data. We’re playing around with some different ways to look at RescueTime data to get a better handle on it, and we’re seeing some things that look pretty interesting. We’re still trying to figure out a “how much are you multitasking?” metric, but what we have so far suggests that every person on our team is significantly more productive when they focus more on a single task, rather than trying to juggle. While we’re not quite ready to release anything yet, we do want to open up a discussion around it.
What do you think? Is multi-tasking an essential skill that today’s knowledge workers must master? Or is it just a way to feel busier?
We wanted to take this opportunity to start mentioning some of our more outspoken and exciting users and Will and RescueTime have been a match for years now. We sat down and asked him some questions about who he is and see if he can unlock any secrets to productivity and time saving for the rest of our community of users. So follow along for our Questions & Answers.
Q: Who are you?
A: I’m a coffee snob, personal data nerd, connector, Crossfit nut, and curator of the Toronto Startup Digest.
Q: What do you do?
A: I’m an Inbound Marketing Specialist at Powered by Search and just recently started blogging about one of my passions that ties data, personal analytics to personal development. :)
Q: How many hours of RescueTime do you have logged?
A: 5229 at the time of this email
Q: Which version of RescueTime are you using?
A: Latest versions on my Macbook Pro, Windows 7 (at work) and Android app.
Q: Why do you use RescueTime?
A: To find out how I’m spending my time. I want to ensure how I’m spending my time is used wisely. I pay you guys (Rescuetime) to make that happen.
Q: Everyone remembers their first computer – what was yours?
A: Ahh.. the memories.. Pentium 133 MHz, with a 2.1 GB Maxtor HDD, 16 MB of RAM, 16 x CD-ROM, 32-bit Soundblaster audiocard and a ATI 3D Xpression 2MB video card. It was the s*** back in the day (1996)
Q: What do you listen to while working?
A: Mostly stuff through Doubletwist on my Nexus S. Other than that, I occasionally use Grooveshark.com. Most played artists are Justice, Daft Punk, Kavinsky, Zero 7 and The xx
Q: Best advice to Get Shit Done
A: Timebox and attach a deadline to EVERYTHING. I follow Parkinson’s Law and the 80/20 Principle religiously. I’m really digging the Pomodoro technique nowadays. I input all of my todo’s into GTD setup that consists of Due Today and Toodledo.com. I also mix it with good old pen and paper where I write it down my Most Important Tasks (usually 3 and no more than that) on a Post-It Note. Oh. And keep on hitting the Focus button via RescueTime
Q: What other services or applications are you using that you cannot live without?
A: Dropbox, Mint.com, ReadItLater, Daytum.com, Mindmeister, Pulse.me, DueToday/Toodledo, Fitocracy and even though it’s not a service or application – my Moleskine journal
Q: Is there anything else rad we should we should know about you.
A: In a previous lifetime, I was heavy into improvisational theatre but now I just appreciate the art form
Are you a morning person? More of a night owl? We just pushed out a nifty little thing that will help you figure it out.
For a while now, we’ve had the concept of an “efficiency score” in RescueTime. It’s basically how productive you are on a scale of 0-100%. That’s not too bad for giving you a rough sense of how productive you are overall, but it hides a few things that can be pretty insightful. We just pushed out a breakdown of your efficiency score over various time periods, so you can see when you are the most productive and when your periods of downtime tend to be.
It’s not a huge change, but I’m pretty excited about it. It’s allowed me to learn some pretty interesting stuff about myself.
I feel like I’m fairly productive, but my overall score wasn’t really reflecting it.
Turns out, if you don’t count weekends and evenings, my productivity shoots way up. That’s perfectly fine by me, because that’s my downtime, when I don’t really need to be productive anyway.
This is awesome data for me to know. I’m usually the last one to arrive in the mornings, and I always feel really guilty about it. Now I have some data that shows I make up for it in the afternoons. It’s also interesting because the rest of the team is on somewhat opposite schedules (they tend to be more productive in the mornings). So it means we’ll have to take than into consideration when scheduling meetings.
This is our first pass at making this information available. There are a few kinks here and there, but we’re going to be iterating on it in the near future. If there’s something that you’d like to see done differently, let us know.
p.s. to make room for this on your dashboard, we moved the comparison of your time vs. the average user. It can now be found on the full report.